March 13, 2010

I Love TPL

As a young child there were three things I feared in life.

First, I was convinced that a “bad” man was going to climb up the television antenna outside my bedroom window, break in and…who knows what!

Second, my family teased that I was adopted and threatened that one day my “real” family was going to show up and take me away. Considering my mother was actually adopted, this was cruel and unusual.

Third, I feared the Library Police. This was a special branch of the police force charged with the task of dealing with cardholders who broke the library laws. I was a young girl who never, never, ever returned her books on time. I had the word “BOOKS” permanently inscribed on my hand by Mrs Beddle, the school librarian. So, one night when a loud knock came to our front door, I fully believed my mom when she said in a concerned voice “Jennifer, it’s the Library Police.” I immediately jumped up and hid myself behind the couch…a space that was much too small for a child… but I fit myself in! When it was revealed that this was all a joke, everyone stood around laughing and laughing. Except me. Not surprisingly, I still return my books late. This crazy approach to parenting didn’t work…imagine that?!

These days I love, love, love the Toronto Public Library. As soon as my girls were born I was hanging out at the library. We attended the weekly story telling groups, or would simply sit on the comfy benches and read for an hour or so. I love everything about the library. Borrowing books, cd’s, dvd’s, magazines, etc, etc from any library in the entire city…genius! Many days Andrew will ask me to pick up his items on hold. When I ask the librarian for his items from behind the counter, she usually hands me a stack of ten or more CD’s…nice. Our family really uses the library.

When my mom passed away, I immediately thought to head to the library and see what it could offer me. Yes, there are books on grieving and loss. I still haven’t picked those books up.

In September, Charlotte began nursery school and I was left with two and a half hours to spend on Queen Street. The library is a wonderful refuge from rain, snow, whatever. I simply pick up a book and start researching whatever subject I might be interested in investigating. After 7 years with a child attached to me, this time is golden. Not to mention it is the perfect location for reading my mom’s books. Warm sunlight streaming in the window, the faint hum of the heating system, soft leather seats and an intriguing novel…bliss.

This summer I hope to visit other library branches with my girls. I think this would make for an educational and fun adventure. We drive by different locations everyday, and I wonder if these branches are as welcoming and comfortable as ours.

March 8, 2010

My Twilight Saga

Well, like any good daughter…I didn’t listen to my mom for long. After two months of Sue Grafton, I decided to change things up a little.

Over the last two years, it has been impossible not to hear about the Stephanie Meyer novels, Twilight and New Moon. The craze over these books reminded me of when Harry Potter came out. I picked up the Potter books and could not put them down! I even convinced Andrew, my husband, to pick up the last couple of books! So, why wouldn’t I like the newest “teenie bopper” craze?

I know I am supposed to be reading my mom’s books. But, I was curious to see how Meyer would portray life as a teenager. The reality is that I was pretty good at being a bad teenager. Who can forget the “Rebellion of 1988-1990” – also known as my teenage years. My parents and I, specifically my mom and I, had too many arguments over curfews, washing dishes, clothing and boyfriends. I think I could argue about absolutely anything…even the colour of the sky! Those years passed by in a hormonal blur. I’m shocked we survived. My sister, who is older than me, did a great job of distracting my parents with her own battles. But, in true motherly fashion – my mom would foil almost every plan I had. How did she know I had skipped class, not slept over at my girlfriend’s house and been hanging out with that boy again? To be honest these are a few skills I was really hoping she would pass on to me. I mean I have two daughters. I am dreading the great “rebellion of 2020-2025”.

A few months before my mom passed away we were sitting chatting and she asked for the truth. What schemes didn’t she uncover? My lips were sealed. I didn’t want to expose every minor detail. I simply assured her that she had not figured everything out…that’s what being a teenager is all about. So, when I decided to deviate from my mom’s bookcases, I knew she’d understand. I’m sure my mom would want me to explore all literature...even vampire love stories.

I’ll preface this by saying I can totally understand why people love these books. They are easy to read…very escapist. Here comes the controversy. I did not overly love reading Twilight. It was filled with A LOT of longing, gazing, thinking, conflicting emotions, etc. Bella and Edward make an intriguing couple. I wasn’t certain I could handle any more of this teen romance gone awry storyline. Then I saw the movie. I realized then and there the only way to get through these books would be to look at them as “B” movies…or “B” books.

So, here comes New Moon. Yes, I even made it through New Moon. The introduction of Jacob was interesting…but didn’t really help the novels for me. To be honest Bella’s a little too passive. I guess I like a stronger female character. So, while I enjoyed the first two books…I couldn’t face Eclipse. I put it on hold at the library. I even picked it up. I read the first couple of chapters and realized that I was ready to move on. I guess I’m all grown up…or perhaps I just wanted to get back to my read-a-thon.

My mom’s books can’t all be the “greatest literature of all time”. Some must be “B” books??

March 4, 2010

Chapter One

Hundreds of books…where to start? Do I start at the very beginning? Do I start at the very end? Most recent and then work my way backwards? The truth of the matter is the thought of picking up one of my mom’s books is overwhelming. Not because there are so many of them…but because of what they represent.

Picture it…7 year old girl, blonde, curly hair. Bare feet, jammies on, standing on a cold hardwood floor. This is my livingroom from my childhood home. We sat at the lower end of the middle class scale. Most families in our neighbourhood did. I’m seeking my mom’s attention. Some urgent, yet probably not urgent at all, need has come up. There sits my mom. At the end of the couch, a brown woven, scratchy material. She’s in her late twenties. Wearing a pair of comfortable jeans, her legs are crossed with her feet resting on the dark brown wood coffee table. Beside her on the table sits a cup of steaming coffee or tea. Mingling with the steam from the drink is the smoke streaming up from the cigarette perched between her fingers. She’s looking down into her lap…where sits a book. She’s deep into the book. Doesn’t look up when I beg for her attention. Simply lets me know that when she’s done this chapter she’ll be available to me again. “How selfish” I think. Engrossed in a book…ignoring me. And so begins my relationship with the enormous bookcases full of attention seeking books. No wonder I had no desire to read them!

I know that whichever book I choose, it will be the “right” choice. I look around at my options and my eyes zero in on a collection I know well. Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone novels. I know nothing of the storylines encased in the books. All I know is every Christmas the perfect gift from my mother was the next in the alphabet titled series…”A is for Alibi” “B is for Burgular”, right through to “T is for Tresspass”. This is where my mom’s collection ends. Every year a new letter. I don’t really know how Sue Grafton managed to come up with the titles let alone the storylines!

I’ve been looking at the spines of those books for decades. When I pull out “A is for Alibi” I take a look at the back of the jacket. I am taken aback. There’s a picture of Sue Grafton. She looks just like my mom. The book is from the eighties and back then my mom looked almost exactly like this woman. Fluffy hair, worn jeans, comfy sweater a real casual attitude in her stance. I was starting to see how difficult this task was going to be…and how interesting. Was my mom drawn to this author because she was a similar “kind” of woman? What about the books themselves.

Well, I made it through the first book in about a week. Burned my way through to the letter “I” in about two months. Kinsey Millhone, Grafton’s main character, is a young private investigator, living in the eighties. She lives on her own in a renovated garage…bachelor apartment. Her adventures lead her into troubles with love and crime. She’s quite remarkable. I love that she tracks down information using the microfiche at the library, and she’s in deep trouble when she can’t find a payphone to call for help. Able to handle the most difficult clients and assailants. Kinsey has a soft vulnerable side too. She’s intelligent and tough…a little “rough around the edges”. But she always has the best of intentions. I can see why my mother was attracted to this character.

I was also quickly realizing that my mom wasn’t “selfish” sitting on the couch reading deeply. As my girls dance and sing around me, while I try to finish each sentence…actually retain some of the information. I now understand those minutes reading were her little escapes. It is hard being a stay at home mom. Although this will sound strange…it’s very lonely at times. All the love from my girls and I still long for adult conversations. As annoying as a co-worker can be, at least they know how to carry on a conversation. Sure it’s about the latest reality show, or their ridiculous boyfriend. Better that then trying to decide which character I want to pretend to be “Donna” or “Sophie” from Mamma Mia! So, I’m beginning to understand how these books took my mom away, if for a few minutes. She needed the break. Thanks Kinsey Millhone and Sue Grafton for taking me away for a few hours a day too.

What will I read next????

March 2, 2010

In the beginning

The long and the short of it is that my mom passed away in May 2009. When she died she left behind the regular earthly, dishes, jewellery, photo albums, nik naks, etc, etc. All of these things were simply...things. The six and a half, overflowing, bookcases full of books that she left behind were beyond simple posessions...they were her.

Growing up my mom always had a book in her hand, on her lap or sitting on the table ready to be read. If you combined the books on the shelves with the books she has borrowed from friends, family and the library..I'm sure she's read hundreds and hundreds of books.

So, after she passed away I was left with a basement apartment full of my mom's "things" and her books.

My mom was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer in May 2006. At the time she lived on her own in a small home, with a big garden. As much as she loved reading, she loved gardening. When she was diagnosed I had a new born baby and a 2 1/2 year old. I was struggling with my children's needs and my overwhelming need to spend as much time as possible with my mom. As the months passed after her diagnosis it was becoming clear that the treatments she had to endure were making it increasingly difficult for her to live on her own. In these sorts of situations reality smacks you in the face. We knew that something had to change. So, we (my husband, mom and I) sold our homes and bought a home together that would nicely accommodate all of us. It was interesting!

And so too came the bookcases and the books. This is how I have ended up with six and a half bookcases of books that I have never read, in my basement.

Sure I am a reader. I've read plenty of books over the years. Generally books related to my schooling...sociology, psychology, canadian literature, history, arts, a good number of Oprah's early book club selections, etc, etc. My mom's books were different. They primarily consist of murder and mystery books. Mix in some gardening books, books of poety, self-help, Canadian classics and light fiction and you have my mom's collection.

I have never read these sorts of books before. Never had an interest in murder mysteries. I think in large part due to my mom's obsession with the genre. Those were "her" books...and who wants to be like her mother???

So, sitting in her apartment (my basement) a few months after her death I wondered what it might be like to read those books. Did they offer some sort of insight into my mom? Before she died, she had told me to make certain her books went to someone who would enjoy them. She laughed at the thought of me keeping the books. After all I had never shown any real interest in them before. Both my brother and sister liked Agatha Christie and Sherlock Holmes...they shared that interest with her...I didn't. I assured her that we would be keeping the books...nothing could ever remind us of our mother more than those books.

I could see my task set before me...I had to read those books. Books she had amassed over a lifetime (56 years)...I would clearly not be able to read each book. But, I was drawn in by the desire to understand my mother. Why did she have an unquenchable desire for these books? What had they taught her? How had they shaped her? What could they teach me?

This is what led me here. I picked up my first book from the shelf and started to read. I felt like sharing my discoveries, my theories, my analysis. Clearly, what I write is biased and based on little or no fact. I will never know if my analysis is accurate. I can't sit down and ask my mother if I am right or not. Do I care? Nope.

These books are pieces of my mother. She carried them with her for decades. I carry them now in my home. I suspect they will lead me on an adventure...or perhaps not. We'll see.